Inquests into James Smith Cree Nation stabbing rampage tentatively scheduled for January 2024
Province says inquests will begin once RCMP finishes investigation
WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
Saskatchewan's Coroners Service says the two inquests into the stabbing rampage last year at James Smith Cree Nation and Weldon, Sask., are tentatively scheduled to start in early January 2024.
The Sept. 4 stabbings left 11 people dead and 18 injured. The province's Coroners Service announced in September that there would be a public inquest held into the deaths, and a separate inquest into the death of the suspect Myles Sanderson, who died shortly after being taken into police custody.
"The Coroners Service was optimistic we would be able to hold the inquests either in the spring or the summer of 2023," Saskatchewan's chief coroner Clive Weighill said in a news released by the province on Wednesday.
"The investigation is very complex and the RCMP is still receiving new information. We need to ensure that all aspects of the investigations are complete before we can move ahead to ensure the inquest is as comprehensive and well-informed as possible."
Leadership at James Smith Cree Nation has been notified of the tentative timeline for the inquests, the release said.
The coroners service says the purpose of the inquest is to establish the events leading to the death, who died, when and where that person died, the medical cause and manner of death.
The coroner's jury will also have the opportunity to make recommendations to prevent similar occurrences.
"We continue to work closely with the James Smith Cree Nation leadership and our Indigenous stakeholders throughout the investigative process, as this remains a high priority," Weighill said.
Victim's families looking for closure
Brian (Buggy) Burns wasn't home at James Smith Cree Nation on Sept. 4, but his wife Bonnie, son Gregory and cousin Gloria were. All three were killed in the mass stabbing.
Burns wants to see the inquest start as soon as possible.
"We should have this inquest way sooner than later, they want us to suffer and mourn longer," Burns said.
"I want to put my mind and heart to ease."
Burns said he wants answers on how the events happened start to finish — even the details of his family members' deaths.
"I want to put closure to it, now I have to be delayed," he said. "Now I have to suffer, wonder and ponder how many times they got stabbed."
- 'There is no place to call home': Man who lost wife, son in James Smith stabbing still living in hotel
Burn said his relatives' personal belongings are being withheld from him due to the investigation.
"Once the inquest starts, I can get those personal belongings [back], I can get her cellphone and my son's cellphone," Burns said. "She has pictures and memories that mean a lot to me."
Once he gets the phones back, he plans to print out pictures to give to his surviving kids.
Pushing back the inquests necessary: chief coroner
Weighill told CBC News that RCMP expects to wrap up the investigation in the fall, but that the coroners service can't start the inquests immediately after that.
"The investigation itself will be done, but then there's a lot of work that needs to be done behind the scenes," Weighill said.
"Transcripts of statements have to be done, there has to be evidence from the crime lab gone through and filtered, we need to make sure we have disclosure packages out to parties that might have standing to the inquest."
RCMP said in a emailed statement to CBC News that they welcome the inquests.
"In addition to analyzing evidence, notes, interviews, etc., investigators are awaiting a number of expert reports and forensic findings. Prior to an inquest, the RCMP will provide information for disclosure to the Department of Justice, Canada," RCMP stated in the email.
"Given the sheer size, scope and complexity of this investigation, it's expected disclosure will continue on an ongoing basis leading up to the inquests."
Weighill said delaying the start of the inquests is necessary to ensure they are completed properly.
He compared the inquests to a criminal trial.
"We've pushed every button we could to make sure that this inquest can happen as quickly as possible," Weighill said.
"But we can't run an inquest before we have the evidence because the jury has to hear the evidence, and the jury will make their recommendations and the finding on the matter of death from the evidence that they hear at the inquest."
Weighill expects the inquest focused on the 11 deaths related to the mass stabbing to take at least two weeks. He said the inquest focused on the death of Myles Sanderson will likely be shorter.
Weighill said the coroners service currently has about 30 pending inquests — not including the two related to the mass stabbing. The service has been doing one or two a month to reduce the backlog, which stems mainly from the COVID-19 pandemic
Weighill said the backlog won't interfere with the James Smith inquests.
"What we plan on doing is holding inquests this summer so that we open a bit of a window in January," Weighill said
Saskatchewan's Coroners Service typically doesn't hold inquests during the summer.
Weighill said the coroners service hopes to begin meeting with the families of the mass stabbing victims within the next few months.
"We want to make sure that they understand the process for an inquest, what may be required, what they might expect from the inquest and what support we can give," Weighill said.
Weighill said he is confident the start date of the inquests won't be pushed again.
- A previous version of this story said the province's news release came out on Tuesday. In fact, it came out on Wednesday.Feb 15, 2023 10:44 AM CT
With files from Sam Samson